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On March 15, 2013, Maryland's legislature passed a bill to repeal the death penalty. After a 27-20 vote for repeal in the Senate, the House of Delegates approved the bill by a vote of 82 to 56. The repeal bill now heads to Governor Martin O'Malley, who introduced the legislation in January and has pledged to sign it into law.
On December 24, 2012, volunteer attorneys from King & Spalding achieved a major victory for their client, Justin Wolfe, when a court not only ordered his release but also barred the Commonwealth from ever re-prosecuting him for the murder of Daniel Petrole.
Volunteer attorneys at Sidley Austin LLP won a major victory for their client William Ziegler on November 2, 2012, when an Alabama circuit judge ruled that Mr. Ziegler was denied his constitutional rights at trial and on appeal, granted post-conviction relief, and ordered a new trial.
Volunteer counsel from O'Melveny & Myers LLP, along with federal defenders at the Federal Capital Habeas Project, recently succeeded in vacating the death sentence of their client, David Lee Jackson, after the federal government admitted to withholding evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland.
On January 8, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Ryan v. Gonzales, which had been consolidated with Tibbals v. Carter, finding no right for mentally incompetent death-sentenced prisoners to stay federal habeas proceedings until they can be restored to competency.
In January and February, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases concerning the provision of counsel in death penalty cases and in a third case that has the potential to affect death row prisoners across the country.
On February 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in two cases that have the potential to impact death row prisoners across the country. Both cases will be argued and decided in the Court’s 2013 Term, which will begin in October.
The ABA has recently issued statements regarding the scheduled executions of three death-sentenced prisoners: John Ferguson, Warren Hill, and Duane Buck. ABA President Laurel Bellows issued statements in support of stays of executions filed by Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Hill, both of whom were scheduled for execution on the day that the statements were released, and in support of a new sentencing hearing for Mr. Buck.
The ABA Death Penalty Representation Project has created an important new web-based resource for capital defenders and volunteer attorneys. The ABA National Capital Standards Database is a secure, web-based repository for historical and current capital defense standards.
The Death Penalty Representation Project has created an online collection of short audio clips from current and past volunteer attorneys describing their experiences and providing advice for new attorneys who are interested in representing a death-sentenced person.
In 2011, Hospira Inc., the sole U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, announced that it would no longer produce that drug, and Lundbeck, the Danish manufacturer of pentobarbital, placed restrictions on the distribution of pentobarbital to prevent its sale to any prison or corrections department in the United States. Several states have reacted to the shortage of sodium thiopental by switching to a single-drug protocol, most commonly using large doses of pentobarbital. Other states have introduced legislation changing their protocols to use unknown and untested procedures and drugs.
In December, North Carolina Judge Gregory Weeks issued his second ruling under the Racial Justice Act, finding that race played a significant role in the sentencing of three death row prisoners and commuting their sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The Project is delighted to announce that recently exonerated Louisiana death row prisoner Damon Thibodeaux and volunteer lawyer Steven Kaplan of Fredrikson & Byron will be the keynote speakers at its 2013 Volunteer Recognition & Awards Event.
On January 18, 2013, the Project co-sponsored an event with the Section of Litigation commemorating the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the 1963 Supreme Court decision that held that indigent defendants have a right to counsel in felony criminal cases. While the event celebrated the importance of the right to counsel and its impact on the American criminal justice system, it also highlighted the challenges the legal community still faces in fulfilling Gideon’s promise of effective legal representation for all.
Project Press is the quarterly newsletter of the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project. Each issue contains news about the Project, clients in need of pro bono assistance, death penalty cases and opinions, training opportunities, and much more!